Sunday, November 16, 2014

New generation of book censors play the same old tune

Fiction must be very dangerous.

Why else would parents and school officials be trying to censor Huckleberry Finn, The Scarlet Letter, and A Farewell to Arms?

Parents of students at Highland Park High School in Texas must sign permission slips for their little darlings to read the above classics. I read all of them in Catholic school. Nobody ever asked my parents if it was OK to read such horrible stuff. Nuns and priests assigned them so they must have been just fine, right?

I could see Sister Miriam Catherine laughing with glee if my mother would have said, “Huckleberry Finn is a dangerous book.” And the good sister didn’t laugh easily. My mother would never had said that. She was too busy raising a passel of kids and working as a nurse. My father? When I was in the fourth grade, he invited me to read any book in his expansive library, courtesy of the Book-of-the-Month Club. Keep in mind that he was a conservative Catholic parent, an accountant by trade who read voraciously. Not read Huckleberry Finn? Don’t be absurd. He would have never said “don’t be absurd.” It’s something a character in a novel might say, an English classic such as “Wuthering Heights” (read it in grade school) or maybe one of the fake royalty riding the raft down the Mississippi with Huck Finn and Jim.

My parents and my four grandparents all were readers. Until my father went to college on the G.I. Bill, none had advanced farther than high school. They all would have considered it strange and un-American to tell us what not to read.

Soon at Highland Park, more books will be added to the list:
They are The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Dracula by Bram Stoker, The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, and The Working Poor: Invisible in America by David K. Shipler.
I regret that I have only read two of the books on this list. Now I have added them to my reading list.

Meanwhile, in Arizona, rapidly trying to outpace Texas on the batshit-crazy list, teacher Dave Peterson is under fire for teaching “pornographic” literature to their children. The pornography includes classics, such as “Hills like White Elephants” by Hemingway and “Good Country People” by Flannery O’Connor, as well as gems of contemporary fiction by Junot Diaz, Amy Hempel, Tobias Wolff, Ron Carlson and Alice Walker. I’ve read the entire reading list which has been thoughtfully posted on Facebook. It tickles me that Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron” is on the list, a tale about political correctness gone bonkers (did any of the critics actually read these pieces?). It’s a fine reading list, one that I printed out for my own edification. Peterson also included an introduction to his list which serves as both encouragement and a warning. This is obviously a responsible mentor to our children, which is more than I can say about his right-wing critics.

There is a petition on Facebook supporting Peterson. Go sign it, read his list and then go out and read all of the selections. My fellow fiction writers are counting on you.

Remember what Kurt Vonnegut wrote in a letter to the chairman of the Drake (N.C.) school board who had burned some of the author's books:
“If you were to bother to read my books, to behave as educated persons would, you would learn that they are not sexy, and do not argue in any favor of wildness of any kind. They beg that people be kinder and more responsible that they often are. It is true that some of the characters speak coarsely in real life. Especially soldiers and hard-working men speak coarsely, and even our most sheltered children know that. And we all know, too, that those words really don’t damage children much. They didn’t damage us when we were young. If was evil deeds and lying that hurt us.” 


Sam said...


Thanks for the additions to my reading list.


Michael Shay said...

My reading list keeps getting longer and longer.